1. I completely understand his reasoning. Training and competing at the highest level takes so much time, energy, commitment, and resources that a young father with a successful academy and his health probably should be thinking about moving on to other challenges.
2. As a fan of jiujitsu and of Rafael Mendes, I’m sad he didn’t get to 10, so we could have endless debates about Rafa and Roger Gracie. These debates will still happen — and in the coming days, after the dust settles, we’ll analyze where Rafa ranks among the greatest of all time — but I would have liked the symmetry.
3. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to watch Rafael compete over the years. More so than his dominance, the pure grace with which he dominated was a pleasure to watch. During almost every Rafael Mendes match, from his epic battles with Cobrinha to his fluid, efficient victories over competitive black belts that he made look like drilling partners, you had the sense you were watching something special.This no doubt has something to do with when I started watching jiujitsu seriously, which coincided with Rafa’s ascendance. Watching greatness is always interesting. Watching Roger dominate was awe-inspiring, too. But to me, watching a Rafael Mendes match was like seeing the creativity of a once-in-a-generation painter, or a gifted poet.
In many matches, it almost looked like he was waiting for the opponent to catch up.
4. I’m even more grateful for having the chance to train with him at the seminars he taught at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu. A recreational basketball player almost never gets the chance to shoot around with LeBron or Jordan. But after making a bunch of phone calls and rallying a bunch of excited people, we got to spend several days learning from the contemporary best in the world. What’s better than that?
5. We can say with confidence that Rafael Mendes is one of the best ever. His competition resume is truly phenomenal — six IBBJF world championships, the most ever from a featherweight, two ADCC championships. He’s never been submitted in competition and is the only man to submit the legendary Cobrinha other than the much-larger Rodolfo Vieira. Where exactly he ranks in the pantheon I want to pause and consider before assessing.
6. I’m truly sad that I’ll never get to see Rafael Mendes compete again. This is a reaction I share, I’m sure, with many others. This reaction is more pronounced because the IBJJF worlds is next week, and I was looking forward to seeing another virtuoso performance.It hasn’t really sunk in yet that I won’t get to.
It’s a great time to be alive, and there are more opportunities to watch great jiujitsu now than ever before. This is a tremendous gift. But without trying to overstate the case, today is also the end of an era.